Monday, August 25, 2008

A Labor Day op ed or bulletin insert

This piece is generic down to the dotted line. The rest shows what we're doing locally in our region. The first two sentences of the next to last paragraph are also "generic".

LABOR DAY -- what is it?

The last holiday of summer? A commemoration of a vaguely understood history of labor in the USA, and the achievements of unions in bringing about middle-class standards of living, the 8-hour workday and the 40-hour week, and the end of child labor in our factories? An honoring of the human right of association, the right of workers to organize and bargain for better pay and better working conditions? Labor Day is all of the above, plus an affirmation of our faith commitment to Economic Justice, deeply rooted in our sacred scriptures.

In the Torah, we find mandates for worker justice, such as Deuteronomy 24:14-15: "You shall not withhold the wages of the poor and needy laborers…otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you."

In the words and deeds of Jesus and the letters of the New Testament, we find the good news proclaimed to the poor and specific admonitions, such as: "The wages of laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out…and have reached the ears of the Lord" (James 5:4).

The Qur'an reminds the community of Islam about its duty to promote fairness and economic justice for all people: "And O my people! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due" (Quran 11:85).

Our faith traditions are united in honoring the dignity of labor. Our scriptures emphasize the importance of equity and justice in matters of wealth and work. They agree in insisting that the employer-worker relationship must be based on justice and mutual consent. This requires us to grapple with the problem of defining what is justice in employer-worker relationships in a society and world economy that’s very different from the societies described in the world’s great scriptures

On Labor Day, religious congregations across the country have an opportunity to reflect on these things, and to think about how our shared values might be more fully expressed in our economic life.


Locally, the Labor-Religion Coalition of the Capital District, as an affiliate of the NYS Labor-Religion Coalition and of the national organizations Jobs with Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice, offers congregations resources on faith-and-labor issues from various faith perspectives and also on current worker justice issues. IIn addition, in this "Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar" program, the Coalition picks out, each year, one issue as its advocacy focus for Labor Day.

Since so many people are out of town in August and don’t have time to schedule Labor Day weekend programs, the Coalition is extending Labor Day into Labor Month. During all of September, the Coalition can provide speakers and materials on this year's Labor Day local advocacy issue, the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill is an attempt to remove obstacles to union organizing that have developed during recent decades. Naturally, it’s very contentious, which makes it a suitable issue to take up in adult study groups and “peace and justice” committees where the pros and cons can be argued out and worked through. Those who agree with the bill might want to sign a postcard in support of it.

So, for Labor Day and Labor Month, we ask you to pray for working people, especially low-wage earners and those who are exploited, both at home and abroad. Remember to ask questions about how workers are treated; speak up in support of working people who are seeking respect and a voice in their working situations. And call the Labor-Religion Coalition for a speaker and information on the Employee Free Choice Act. We’ll be distributing and collecting the postcards for the rest of the year, to give to the new president in January.

[The LRC of the Capital District is an independent coalition of congregations, labor unions, community groups, and individuals. Its focus is on the struggles of low-wage workers for justice, at the point of convergence of our faith commitments with the best values of the labor movement. For more information, contact Marjorie DeVoe, coordinator, at 482-5595 or]

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